Head for Central Cottage Industries, Nandanam

The six yards by nine yards length of the sari is both the conceptual and physical canvas over which, through centuries and millennia, artisans from different parts of the country have developed their distinctive textile language. Thus Odisha’s Koraput tribal sari draws its brilliant red from the roots of the local ‘aal’ tree and its weaves from ancient memory, the Maheswari - its historic ‘Ahalyabai border’ from Rani Ahalya Bai’s design concept, the Benarasi - its classic flower and vine patterning from the Muslim design vocabulary and the temple border from the ‘gopuram’ and shikar of temples everywhere. So pervasive is the local influence that when the Begum of Bhopal asked master artisan Ismail Suleiman Khatri to produce his block printed Bagh saris and fabric in Bhopal, Khatri found it difficult to replicate in Bhopal the smooth texture and diffused beauty of his Bagh creations of Gwalior in Dhar distict.

“The waters of Bhagini river in Dhar district, in which we give Bagh saris a final dip, has a special quality that gives the end product a special soft sheen,” says Ismail Khatri.

Similar sentiments are echoed by shilp guru Gurappa Chetty about the waters of River Swarnamukhi in which his Kalamkari masterpieces are dipped both in the pre and post processing of creating the Kalamkari fabric.

Diverse identities

The Central Cottage Industries Emporium brings together expressions of these diverse sari identities in its ‘Cool Cotton’ exhibition of cotton, crepe and tussar saris. National Awardee Rajendra Meher’s Sambhalpuri ikats reflect the curvilinear motifs, the combination of ikat and relief texture due to supplementary warp and weft, as well as the precision of tying and dyeing of the threads. Among his outstanding creations are the `Vichitrapuri’ or `chessboard’ sari with motifs such as the auspicious fish, duck, lotus creepers, etc.

Designer Barun Dutta’s unusual cracked batik – bandhini motif saris come in oranges, greens, pinks and yellows. The batik art technique has been used to create the Bandhini like dots with a typical cracked look. The result is a brilliant range of innovative saris. Equally innovative are traditional Chettinad cotton saris with Kanchi style borders. And not to be missed are the kalamkari saris full of curling vine and fantasy flowers, their `pallus’ featuring a resplendent Lakshmi on a lotus and Siva and Parvati in a grove of flowering trees. The blending of muted colours and the composition is sheer poetry, “which I learnt from my family by watching and innovating,” says the National awardee Lakshmi Amma. Each one of her Kalamkari saris is a piece of wearable art.

Cool Cottons is on view at the Central Cottage Industries Emporium, Temple Towers, 672, Anna Salai, Nandanam, Chennai – 600 035 till April 30.